becoming a lethal journalist

trace_NAJA awards

By Trace A. DeMeyer

I knew at the age of 10 that I would be a writer. I did not know about being an editor back then. I kept journals religiously and wrote for the high school newspaper. Honestly, I did not want to become a writer until I had lived awhile, and gained some real life experience. I did not feel I had the right to an opinion until I understood many other viewpoints and lived around the country awhile.

I lived in many different places, and worked many kinds of jobs. I needed to do it because it’s how we listen that makes us good writers.

At one time, I wrote three to 20 pages a day. That was great practice and helped me perfect the craft of writing. I also had an two excellent English teachers at UW-Superior. English was my minor but I needed 15 (Shakespeare) credits to complete it and never did.

My Bachelor of Fine Arts degree helped me secure my first job at the Arts Council of the Mid Columbia Region in Washington state. It was my job to publish a monthly newsletter and promote the Council.

Over the years I wrote many newsletters and finished seven children’s stories, three plays, reams of poetry, and kept 100+ journals (that I still keep).

Back in 1996 I did not choose journalism; it chose me. I applied for a job at the Sawyer County Record in Hayward. Their publisher Gary Pennington needed an editor; I wanted to write.

I like to tell the story of writing my first feature story; I interviewed a woman who made a quilt piece for a national traveling AIDS exhibit to honor her deceased son.  A local minister wrote an op-ed saying that I was a “lethal journalist” because my writing about AIDS meant I condoned homosexuality. Whew – I knew immediately and without a doubt I was a journalist and I’d carry that title “lethal” with me forever.

Paul DeMain, the publisher of News From Indian Country, a national Native American newspaper, hired me later that year. Back then, I just wanted to write about Native Americans and Native news. We published the prototype of Ojibwe Akiing in December, about a month after I started work. I quickly learned Quark pagination.  After four years and a variety of duties on two newspapers, I called it my college degree from “DeMain” University.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation called and wanted to interview me for the editor position in June 1999. I flew to Connecticut for the interview and started work on August 16.

I published a chapter in the book “Olympics at the Millennium: Power, Politics and the Games,” based on my interviews with the family of Olympian Jim Thorpe, a Sac and Fox. It was published by Rutgers Press in 2000, in time for the Sydney Olympics.

Meeting Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee) was a great honor for me though I did not interview her. I intended to send her my research on Native American slavery, once it was finished. Sadly she passed away but I did give my research paper FIRST CONTACT at the Native American Journalists conference in Florida.

What gets me out of bed is writing, editing and my research. I read everything. The financial security of being the editor of the Pequot Times was gratifying. I left that job in August 2004 and have written three books since and edited and contributed to several more.

Life is what shapes your thoughts. The Old Ones visit you in dreams to guide you. Being a journalist is a gift, one that I treasure and treat with respect.

Receiving awards for my work, like 7 NAJA awards for the Pequot Times in 2003, well that was inspirational. I know I must continue. It is the reason I am here.



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